U.S. stock index futures pointed to a mixed open Wednesday, which will bring to a close one of Wall Street's worst years, but not before what is expected to be more bleak data on the labor market.
The Federal Reserve Tuesday pushed forward with its effort to drive down mortgage costs, setting a target of buying $500-billion (U.S.) in mortgage-backed securities by mid-2009. The move could bolster optimism as investors have been heartened by signs that the Fed that it is fighting aggressively to stave off the recession, including dropping interest rates to near zero.
S&P 500 futures rose 3.10 points and were above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures climbed 12 points, while Nasdaq 100 futures were off 0.50 points.
The broad S&P 500 looks set to end 2008 down about 40 percent for the year, though it has recovered almost 18 percent since hitting an 11-year low on Nov. 20. Markets around the world have been pummeled as the collapse of the U.S. housing market evolved into a global credit crunch and economic slowdown infecting all sectors from financials to automakers to retailers.
Bernard Madoff, alleged to have run a decades-long $50 billion Ponzi scheme, faces a Wednesday deadline to tell regulators how much he is worth and where his money and other assets are. The Madoff scandal, which came to light earlier this month, has added to already negative sentiment in the markets. Scores of wealthy people, banks, universities and charities around the world say they are victims, but so far the exact amount of money is not known in what could be the largest fraud in Wall Street history.
On the economic front, weekly initial jobless claims are expected later in the morning, a day early due to the New Year's holiday on Thursday.